EDMONTON- A report released by the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate (OCYA) Tuesday found the child welfare system continually failed a two-year-old girl, known simply as Teanna, who suffered potentially life-threatening injuries while in the province’s care in 2013.
The report, penned by provincial Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff, said the little girl suffered internal injuries while living at a foster home in her First Nation community.
According to the report, police and paramedics were called to Teanna’s home to investigate allegations of abuse. Teanna was found with a black eye and bruises on her body. Her foster mother, identified as Laina, initially suggested Teanna hurt herself by falling because she had poor balance. The officers accepted the explanation and left but when Child Intervention Services visited the home a couple of days later, workers determined Teanna should be taken to hospital. That’s when she was hospitalized with potentially life-threatening internal injuries.
Graff said Laina had since been charged with assault and that the matter was before the courts. His report also found two more children under Laina’s care, one of whom was Teanna’s sister, had since been removed from the home.
The review paints the first couple of years of Teanna’s life as a time of tumult and upheaval. It said the two-year-old was taken away from her parents at birth because of prenatal drug use and had moved four times by the age of two. Laina, the foster mother at the fourth home, requested to give up caring for Teanna because she couldn’t meet her needs or deal with her behaviour but was continually told to give it another try. Teanna had delayed motor skill development as a result of her prenatal exposure to drugs.
In his report, Graff also said Teanna’s foster mother suffered from depression and that Child Intervention Services had previously expressed concerns of emotional abuse of children at the home.
The OCYA’s summary of the case calls on the provincial government to implement better planning and strategies to ensure children in the system are having their needs met. In particular, Graff said more care must be taken to ensure that foster parents are properly equipped for caring for children with special needs. He also said more needs to be done to minimize how often a child is moved, and to make the transition smoother.
Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir issued a statement in response that said the government is examining Graff’s recommendations and will later consult with the OCYA.
“We must learn from heartbreaking incidents, like the one detailed in this report, to make the system better,” Sabir said. “The Child and Youth Advocate is a valued and respected adviser in our shared goal of protecting Alberta’s children, and I thank him for this report.”
The OCYA report said while Teanna has physically recovered from her injuries, she is still suffering from the impact of what happened.
“Teanna does not appear to have long-term physical impairment from her injuries, but she suffers from emotional trauma that includes nightmares. She cries at bath time, does not play well with other children and tantrums easily.”
Teanna and her sister have now been returned to their parents to be cared for.
The child advocate has a mandate to investigate serious injuries or deaths of children in care but his reports don’t assign blame to individuals; instead, the advocate is tasked with identifying where systemic improvements can be made.
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